Author Topic: How did you negotiate significant schedule changes with your employer?  (Read 6237 times)

Dr. Doom

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I'd like to hear from people who have significantly altered aspects of their employment schedule and/or face-time responsibilities after being hired.

Let's say you were hired to work 40 hours a week but now you work just 20 over two and a half days.  How'd you do it?  What was the conversation like?

Or maybe the initial expectation was that you come into the office four out of five days a week but now you only come in 1/5.  Everybody in the office still goes in 80% of the days, but not you.  Nope - somehow, you got your request granted.

How exactly did you go about making these changes?  Did you speak to HR first?  Or your manager?  Care to share low-level details of how you approached the situation?  How much (if anything) did you tell them about the underlying reasons why you were seeking the schedule changes?

Bonus Question:   Has anyone taken a 1-year sabbatical and actually gone back to work for the same employer?  Can you share any details re: your experience making the request?  Also, how'd you feel after returning to work, assuming you did go back?

I'm suddenly interested in this because I want to explore alternate schedules with my employer (i.e. semi-retirement) but really don't have the foggiest idea how to go about it other than drinking liquid courage before barging into my managers office and blurting something like "I want to work 2 days a week from now on going forward, see?  You can drop my salary 60% if you have to, but I'd honestly prefer you don't, you hear?  So how about it, old buddy, old pal?"

(Tact is something I have trouble with sometimes.)


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Re: How did you negotiate significant schedule changes with your employer?
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2014, 05:32:10 PM »
First I would find out if anyone has similar work arrangements that you want and find out from them.  If you are the first then that might be a tough sell to management as that would set a new precedent.

I work for a company that has very flexible work arrangements.  People work remote full-time, work 30 hours a week, live 3 hours a way and come to the office twice a week, ect.  So when I was considering moving or dropping my hours because my second child was born it was just candid conversation with my manager.  Where I explained to them that I was exploring the possibility and how would that look like with regards to benefits and compensation.  Basically try and drop hints so that when the conversation happens it's not unexpected.  Which could back fire if they are completely against the idea.

I wouldn't be as candid and say yeah i'm FI and would only like to work 20 hours a week.  Have you considered becoming a consultant, where you can pitch that it would work for both parties, where you get flexibility and they save money.  Could be worth a shot.


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Re: How did you negotiate significant schedule changes with your employer?
« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2014, 07:46:58 PM »
* Talk to your manager before talking to HR.
* You could offer to do it for a probationary period, such as 90 days, and if it doesn't work for them then you convert back to regular schedule. 
* You could offer to create a job share e.g. find someone who could do your job but wants to go part-time too--- so there is then two people doing one job.  This can work if both are high-performers and good communicators.
* Expect to have your salary pro-rated.  They'll be annoyed if you expect otherwise.
* Your leverage depends on how valuable you are.  If they really don't want to lose you and your skill set is difficult to replace, and they aren't jerks--- I would say that your odds are pretty high of getting a reduced schedule.
* Think through what your manager needs, and how that could be addressed if you work part-time or take a sabbatical.  Come up with some potential solutions to discuss if it seems appropriate during your conversation.
* I've seen people take 3-6 month sabbaticals, but never a year.  Employers generally won't hold your job for that long, at least in my experience.
* So much depends on the manager/HR and the company culture.  It could backfire if they aren't open-minded.  So only you will be able to judge potential fallout.

Best wishes for a productive conversation.

P.S. I haven't asked for this myself, but am in HR and authored our organization's flex work policy.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2014, 07:51:17 PM by Sarita »


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Re: How did you negotiate significant schedule changes with your employer?
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2014, 09:54:18 AM »
About 9 months ago I was able to negotiate a schedule where I work from home 3 days a week. Our office generally has positions that are either based in the office or at the client site. There's nobody else in our department with this schedule although I've heard of a few people (single digits) in other departments that have work from home days to accommodate childcare.

I had brought up working from home over the years in conversation every so often but always received an answer of "well that's not something that leadership is open to but you can work from home whenever you need". Spending 3ish hours commuting every day via bus/train/subway was not ideal but ok for me when we had a tiny house and copious free time; when we upgraded last year to a larger house and as we discussed starting a family, I found myself valuing convenience and free time differently.

In the 6 months to a year prior to my schedule change request I had taken on new responsibilities and was starting to work more with our overseas offices as well as run my own projects so I had honestly already started to feel that I was underpaid and undervalued. When 3 separate people at my level, in positions similar to mine, left the company for other opportunities within 3 months, I got really itchy and was seriously considering looking for another job that at the correct level.

Instead I wrote a nice formal email to my boss detailing the fact that I'd been in the position for 3+ years and arguing that I could better fulfill the new responsibilities I'd taken on by working from home 3 days a week (monday, wednesday and friday). My argument was that I could focus better on creative in-depth work when I wouldn't be interrupted by a commute and that I'd be more available during overseas office hours. I emphasized how much I enjoyed the work environment and job and signed off.

Verbally, I told my boss some of the personal reasons for how strongly I valued cutting my commute however possible but the facts that other people had left, that I was working above my pay and that I was willing to leave over this were never brought up explicitly.

TLDR: wait until you're in a position of strength, be specific about what you really value and ask nicely by only talking about positives for the other party even if you have to make them up.

It might help you to reframe the conversation in your mind from a request to a presentation from you solving a problem that they didn't even know about. (i.e. that they would be inconvenienced if you were forced to leave a situation that no longer works for you)

Good Luck with the conversation and Congrats on the semi-retirement!


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Re: How did you negotiate significant schedule changes with your employer?
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2014, 11:27:47 AM »
I spoke with my manager first. And then he went to HR, and then I had to have a discussion with someone, and eventually it all worked out.

As I went into it, I was fully prepared for them to say no, and that I would have to leave and try to find a job at Starbucks. I can't remember how that actually came up in conversation, but I was quite clear that the option was NOT that I would stay on full time if they didn't want me to do part-time. But it was that if they wanted to keep me, then it was going to be part time. I think it helped me that I had a real reason that I wanted to do this, which was to attend grad school in order to change career, rather than that I just wanted to semi-retire. My employer seems to frown on just working less because you feel like it (unless you are at full retirement age), but will begrudgingly allow you to do it if you have a good reason (young kids to take care of, grad school, whatever). Now, actually, although I did go to grad school, I never had to provide proof or anything. So I wonder if I could have professed an interest in grad school or something without actually going.

Also, I cut my hours down to 30 to begin with. This was (and is) my employer's minimum number of hours for retaining benefits. I felt it was a good stepping stone for both me and my employer - they could get used to me being there less, and I could get used to living on less without having to simultaneously start paying for health insurance or whatever. I stuck it out that way for 4 years, and then went down to 20 hours where I have now been for 2 years. They've said that 20 hours is the absolute minimum and I can't drop below that and still retain the job. I am STILL trying to get that second career off the ground enough where it can support me full time, so I'll probably be another few years at 20 hours (& hopefully they won't fire me before I'm ready!).


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Re: How did you negotiate significant schedule changes with your employer?
« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2014, 04:49:49 PM »
I'm in the process of negotiating something like this for maternity leave.  My organisation offers very generous maternity benefits, but it offers them on an all or nothing basis - as the policy is currently written, I need to stay away entirely for a whole year, or I need to come back full-time.  If I come back part-time, I lose a number of benefits that are valuable to me, including particularly benefits that protect the value of my existing retirement accounts.  Although we can afford for me to take a year off, I've done this once before, and the problem is that the organisation has trouble honouring that arrangement - in practice, I end up working a substantial amount, while being paid only the benefits one is meant to receive while completely on leave.

This time around, what I want to do is formalise - and get paid for - a specific amount of specific kinds of work that I will continue to do while otherwise on maternity leave.  I want to do this, while receiving the same benefits I would otherwise receive if I were not working at all.  The benefits I want preserved have to do with how my "service fraction" is calculated - we have a provision whereby you continue to be counted as a full-time employee while on maternity leave for up to two years. You don't get /paid/ as a full-time employee, but you continue to accrue certain other benefits at a full-time pace, even though you are not working. 

However, current policy is that, once you return to work, if you return part-time rather than full-time, your service fraction is immediately reduced due to your part-time hours.  This strikes me as irrational - the incentive structure means that someone is better off not working at all, than working even a substantial number of part-time hours.  It's also legally dubious (here). 

So I'm requesting permission to negotiate part-time hours during the maternity leave period, without a reduction in the benefits I would receive if I weren't working at all.  I'm also, incidentally, using it to gain greater control over what my job will be: basically, I want to keep all the parts I most like and that are the most flexible (research and research student supervision), while handing over the parts I find most tedious (administration) or that I like, but that require a rigid schedule that I don't want to maintain with a young baby (teaching).

My managers are thrilled - I'm highly skilled, research productive, and I supervise a large number of PhD candidates in a context where we're under increasing pressure to improve the timely completion rates for our PhDs.  They are relieved that the area doesn't have to lose me entirely.  So the conversation with them was fairly straightforward - I made a case for the work I wanted to retain (it helps that there is actually research to show that, when academic staff go on mat leave, their areas tend to backfill their teaching and admin, but leave their research work unfilled, because it's difficult to substitute one person for another in many research fields, particularly for a short duration).  I had already mapped out for them who could take over the responsibilities that I want to surrender, so I had taken away most of the stress of planning how exactly this would play out.  And I did it early enough that I could do a proper handover to those people, to minimise disruption for them (and the risks of my having to fend off calls from work when I'm on the labour ward).  So that discussion boiled down to my being able to give them a very clear sense of how exactly it would work, and why they would benefit.

The various administrative parts of the university are... much less thrilled.  For various reasons, mainly down to how our HR software works, it will cause a headache for HR to do this, and they are responding to that technical difficulty by posing all sorts of spurious objections: that it's not legal; that it violates OH&S regulations; that it would be damaging to my "work-life balance", that I birth/a young child/ etc., are too stressful for me to be able to combine them with these responsibilities, etc.  Aside from being generally smarmy, many of their objections are frankly illegal (here).  So with them it's been a more strategic and aggressive game of getting them to put what they're telling me into writing (they must have some sense they are in problematic territory, since they try to avoid doing this - I've had to screen their phone calls to force them to interact with me via email).  Once that was done, I could hit them with very polite, well-researched, queries in the vein of "It sounds very much like you are saying X - but that can't be what you actually meant, because that would abrogate Y law.  Could you clarify so that I'm sure I've understood." etc.  It didn't take much of that to get much more ameliorating responses, as well as the escalation of my request higher up the HR food chain.

I've also done a quick sweep of policies of other universities, so I had a dozen best practice examples from competitor institutions that explicitly allow what I'm requesting.

I realise not all of this will apply - pregnancy and maternity are protected classes in many places, so employers have to tread more cautiously.  But the approach of developing a clear plan, so that you've taken off the table objections that boil down to a panicked "Oh my god! How will we cope?", and presenting the whole thing as a clear win-win, and maybe starting with whichever level of management is most likely to be receptive, before moving on to the more problematic people, could help.  Best practice examples from other institutions might be useful too, particularly if your organisation tries to market itself to existing or prospective staff - or clients or the general public - as progressive in some way.

There's also always the option of walking - and then letting them ask you to come back as a consultant, which gives you more ability to negotiate terms.  If I weren't in a mat leave situation, that's actually what I would probably do here: I'd have an initial conversation, make a proposal, and "regretfully" leave, without burning bridges, and wait for them to ask me to come back and help out.  I've never left a job where someone hasn't had to hire multiple people to replace me - generally, I've refused offers to return to help out because I really wanted out - but where I am now /could/ be a decent job, with certain tweaks, until I retire.  So I'd be more open, here, to negotiating after leaving.  I've had the impression from some of your other posts that you are also someone who's much more productive than the average staff member, so I'd think they'd be in the same position of needing to scramble around to replace you if you left entirely.  This opens up a lot of potential, both to sell them on the idea of keeping you on your own terms, and to leave if necessary and see whether this changes their perspective on your original request.


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Re: How did you negotiate significant schedule changes with your employer?
« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2014, 07:06:21 PM »
I took a year off work because I wanted to do a course. I had a discussion with my boss first (in my experience your immediate boss is always more amenable than HR, and HR may or may not be more amenable than the boss of your boss - someone is usually a pain) and he was amenable to it.

I talked with HR about what my outstanding leave entitlements were, and read up our work agreement (which HR supplied). In Australia we have long service leave (3 months at full pay, 6 months half pay after 10 years of service to the one company - it can be better in some companies), and I had a lot of leave owing. My boss and his boss agreed I could take leave at half pay as well (HR nearly had a hernia about this - but it had already been agreed, so they just had to accept it). I didn't have enough, so I asked HR how much leave I would accumulate while I was on leave, and together we worked out a plan that made exactly the year I needed off. It bypassed some requirements in the work agreement (for example, you have to take all of one sort of leave, then all of the other sort - no mixing), but HR had rolled over and accepted it by this stage.

My boss had said I could have leave without pay as well, but I didn't need it, and I lost some benefits if I took leave without pay - I wanted every bit of pay to go into superannuation (retirement Australia speak - 401k or whatever, and their match would be smaller if I took leave without pay).

The day after I came back HR told me they had miscalculated, and I had almost two month's more leave at half pay that had accumulated. I was in the process of working out whether to go part time the following year to finish the course. My boss said yes. Although it would have been unusual - people who have maternity leave can usually work part time until the child is 5, but other people had enormous difficulty being part time. However, I went back on leave, and never came back, so I don't know whether I would have been successful with being part time.

It is good to think about the politics of the place as well. When I wanted to go on leave, there was a push to get people to take any leave owing to them. The area also had less budget than they needed, so me going on leave meant that someone else would not be sacked. This meant that both my boss and his boss would gain from me going on leave. When I came back, the situation was worse, so going part time would also have helped them.

I worked with the people concerned to get a result that was OK by me and them, and was willing to be flexible.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2014, 07:08:58 PM by deborah »


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Re: How did you negotiate significant schedule changes with your employer?
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2014, 07:31:09 PM »
Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio for a yearlong sabbatical to rejuvenate and refresh their creative outlook. He explains the often overlooked value of time off and shows the innovative projects inspired by his time in Bali.(Recorded at TEDGlobal, July 2009, Oxford, UK.

I can't seem to get the link, but just google ted talk Stefan Sagmeister.

Also, you might consider what teachers in Canada can negotiate : it's called a 4 over five. Four years pay, over five years- the fifth year is "off" from work, No expectations from employer, unlike a university academic who continues to work (and be paid) during the sabbatical. Professors continue to research but just don't teach.

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Re: How did you negotiate significant schedule changes with your employer?
« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2014, 08:39:37 PM »

Genuine thanks for all of these responses.  Piecing things together, I now have a coherent road-map to follow.

My major takeaways so far are:

- Talk to manager first
- Don't mention FI/finances, or the fact that I simply want to work less.  If they need a reason behind the request, it's best to list a different motivation, such as a need to provide increasing care for aging parents.
- I like the consultant idea.  My employer does hire consultants and this is an arrangement that could work well.
- State my schedule request and ask if they can work with me, i.e. allow my employer to communicate possibilities (incl. salary and benefit adjustments)  and go from there.
- Keep any sabbatical request to 6 months, max
- Make an effort to be positive by talking about your connection to the job and employer, and your hope you can come to an arrangement that works for all parties.
- Provide a plan to cross-train teammates to fill any knowledge gaps I may be leaving.
- Consider the politics and culture of my org.
- Be prepared to walk.  < Trust me, I have this part covered ;)  >

Unless I've completely misjudged the value I add to my employer, I'll have some negotiating leverage.  They will not want to see me go.  I've left 4 employers over my 15 years in the workforce and 3 of them were devastated.  (One of them hired three people to replace me.  The one that didn't care was a MegaCorp which promptly outsourced my position to India and Chile.)  This history is an objective comment on my overall productivity; I'm generally perceived as an efficient, driven, highly accurate robot human. 

An observation: What I see as the common thread in the responses provided is that every organization's HR unit already has set policies regarding part-time work and leaves of absence.  If my request doesn't map directly to a policy already in place, it will signal a problem.
When I look around, I don't see anyone in the office that has non-standard schedules other than consultants.   This makes me wonder what, exactly, these policies are.  I searched the company portal and handbook and there's no mention of sabatticals for anyone other than professors (I'm in academia.)

I suppose the good news is that if they can't help, I can afford to not work ever again, so there's literally no risk or harm in asking for these adjustments, so I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

As an aside I'm a bit jealous of folks that have mentioned generous work-from-home policies.  That sounds terrific.

@Kepler:   "a specific amount of specific kinds of work that I will continue to do while otherwise on maternity leave."

Yes, I completely understand this.  My hope is that if I'm working part time or as a consultant, that all of the useful and interesting work that I'm typically given to complete over 5 days will be compressed into 2 or 3.  I optimistically believe that in this sort of arrangement that I will simply not be assigned busy work to fill hours -- I'd be doing the high-value-add stuff exclusively, which would be a good thing for both me and my employer.

End result:  My time spent working is intense, rewarding, and challenging, rather than full of fluff tasks (administration, reports, documentation that becomes stale an hour after I've written it, team meetings, etc.) that management would not dare to assign to a resource that bills by the hour.

@deborah:  "It is good to think about the politics of the place as well."

This part sucks, I have to be blunt.  I work for a conservative university.  They've only just recently (2013) allowed people to work from home one day a week.  They value face time and want to see everyone just hanging out, having fun whether they're faking it or not.  It's not all business for this place -- there seems to be a desire for employees to pretend that we're all part of a big happy family who would spend time together voluntarily just like families do, only without the constant guilt tripping.  So I'm a little worried that they will be simply unable to accommodate a request to work part time.  They are literally old school, having been established in the 1800s.

It's fascinating to read everyone's stories -- appreciate the sharing.  I feel much more confident about approaching this topic in a responsible way now.

That's not to say I'm not naturally responsible.  It's just that I can be kind of a dork socially sometimes.  <-- not guessing here.

I'll shut up now...